Stop Painting: When painting rebelled itself

How can one stage the sea with just a few drops of water? This seems to be the challenge proposed by the Swiss artist Peter Fischli, invited by Fondazione Prada, in Venice, to make Stop Painting. This is a collective show focused on the history of painting that has rebelled itself over the last 150 years, seeking a new identity.

Conceived by the artist through connections that look like games of chance and daring, Stop Painting takes the idea of how painting – deemed dead, gone, outdated several times in the last century – is still alive and full of energy. In whatever form it takes.

Fischli identifies five breaking moments, where painting fragmented itself. They are radical episodes, stirred by technological inventions or social changes: the discovery of photography in 1839 by Daguerre; the use of readymade and collage a hundred years ago; the crisis of the idea of «authorship» after 1968; the distrust of painting, seen as a «genre of art tailor-made for bourgeois rooms»; and the inability to create new avant-garde movements in the 1980s, which lethally wounded painting.

Yet, as usually happens in these difficult moments, painting still follows our evolutions: it turns itself into statements or protesting (Jörg Immendorf, Wo Stehts du mit deiner Kunst, kollege?, 1973), it becomes monochromatic Monika Baer, In reserve, 2018), it swallows objects (Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled, 1991), it leaves the canvas behind to expand in space (David Hammons, Untitled, 2008), it loses its aura, it drops the brushes to use industrial pigments on giant surfaces or carpets made with used and meticulously stitched rags to be painted on (Jean-Frédéric Schnyder, Hudel, 1983-2004).

And also: from oil to burnt plastic (Alberto Burri, Plastica, 1962), painting plays with the icons of the old masters (Alan Jaquet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1964) and also with camouflaged fabrics used for their aesthetic value (Alighiero Boetti, Mimetico, 1967). These are just a few examples of what can be seen, as the show, at Prada’s headquarters in Ca’ Corner della Regina, has 110 works by more than 80 artists, divided into 10 thematic rooms.

But it is not a «complete» or «encyclopaedic» exhibition: it is impossible to find all the painters, groups, duos who have turned the struggle with painting into their art. For those who find Stop Painting akin to an incomplete short story, you must remember that it is a show curated by an artist; Peter Fischli has chosen the object-paintings as if he were conceiving a collection of his own. The kind of fragmented painting that inspired him.

Fischli’s thinking that guided the exhibition is not unlike the poetics that have followed him for many years – especially after the passing of his partner David Weiss in 2012. His exhibition line is not chronological; it is divided into themes, uniting poetic and mental points of a rather particular art history.

What is the conclusion after seeing the whole show? In a way, it is similar to the thought of the Italian artist Gino De Dominicis, who referred to painting as the most ancient and contemporary medium at the same time. One that will never end: we will need to draw, to put ideas on paper, to visually validate projects.

Stop Painting is a portrait of painting venturing out to join life, assuming itself as the material of our present, either old or recent!


Stop Painting is on view at Fondazione Prada, in Venice, until November 21.

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine and also a collaborator in the weekly journal D La Repubblica. Besides journalist he’s also the editor and curator of several books, such as Un Musée après, by the photographer Luca Gilli, Vanilla Edizioni, 2018; Francesca Alinovi (with Veronica Santi), by Postmedia books, 2019; Prisa Mata. Diario Marocchino, by Sartoria Editoriale, 2020. The lattest published book is L'involuzione del pensiero libero, 2021, also by Postmedia books. He’s the curator of the exhibitions Marcella Vanzo. To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, at Berengo Foundation, Venezia, 2019; Luca Gilli, Di-stanze, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2018; Aldo Runfola, Galeria Michela Rizzo, Venezia, 2018, and the co-curator of the first, 2019 edition of BienNoLo, the peripheries biennial, in Milan. He’s a professor assistant in several Fine Arts Academies and specialized courses. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.

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